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I decided to re-visit this post today when a few serendipitous events kept leading back to one of our most famous or infamous (depending on the source) late residents.  It was spurred by attending an open house of a gorgeous listing my colleague and friend Donna Cox was having in a home that was located on the grounds of the former Clarkstown Country Club, owned by the above mentioned fellow.  No matter whether you thought he was a saint or a swindler, NO ONE could deny that he was truly UNIQUE.  Thanks to some additional information from the very knowledgable Jim Leiner, I can flesh out the story here for a bit. 

Okay, so the rest of the county – in fact, the rest of the state – has always accused Nyack and Nyackers of being a little well… different.  We tend not to march to quite the same drummer as most of the rest of the area, which may be what has attracted the artists, writers, musicians and all the rest to Nyack for so many years.  It’s not that we in Nyack “draw outside the lines” – we draw within the lines, we just use brighter colors!  

Many may think that New Age philosophy first made its’ appearance in Nyack during the Nyack Renaissance of the late 1970s.  Au contraire, mon amis! Let’s turn back the clock a moment to one of the most successful and celebrated New Age entrepreneurs of all time – Pierre Arnold Bernard.  After having been a bit too extreme for San Francisco and Manhattan (let’s imagine “too extreme for San Francisco and Manhattan” for a moment, shall we…), Mr. Bernard moved to Nyack in 1918 and first established the “Braeburn Country Club” where the Nyack Field Club is now located.  The property also contained the area where the elementary school now sits, and emblazoned above the entrance gate was a sign reading: “Here Philosopher May Dance, and The Fool Wear a Thinking Cap”.

The property had been world-famous at the end of the 1800s and first two decades of the 1900s as the home of the Nyack Tennis Tournament, a World Cup level tournament held yearly just a few days after the annual Forrest Hills tournament so that international competitors would have another American Tourney after having to spend 5 days to get here by Ocean Liner. (I discuss the Club’s earlier incarnation in my post http://bit.ly/2arZWX4 about our own Nyack  International Tennis star and foundress of the National Tennis Association, Augusta Bradley Chapman).

 According to Mr. Leiner, it was not until the 1920s when the “upper campus” which would become the Clarkstown Country Club consisted of 78 acres where the Junior High School and much of Nyack College sit today was acquired. He started building immediately and many of the current college buildings were actually originally part of the resort – the facility was completed with the construction of a stadium in Central Nyack in 1934. Though known in the press of the time as “The Omnipotent Oom” it appears the man himself preferred to be called either “Doc” or by his initials “P.A.” just as I’m referred to as “J.P.”.  On a more serious note, he IS credited with the real beginning of the yoga movement in the United States.  

The Club was part yoga center, part Ashram, part spa, part entertainment venue… and by many accounts a haven of the “Free Love” movement (look it up if you must!) and high-end opium resort catering to the rich and famous.it abounded with oddities, not the least being that the vast majority of the “Clarkstown” Country Club was located in Orangetown.  There was also a yacht, airplanes on the grounds, minor league class A baseball games – including night games under the lights in 1934, a permanent circus, and elephants – a small herd of them.  In fact, when the matriarch elephant “Mom” died at age 93 her obituary ran in The New York Times. And no, I’m really not kidding.  The elephants became a beloved and welcome part of the Nyack community for decades. In fact the uncle of a very close friend was one of their caretakers, and by all reports, they were EXTREMELY happy here – well treated, well housed, well fed, free to walk the grounds, and never ever living alone or chained (perhaps Mr. Bernard should have taught some things to Ringling Brothers).

photo from Nyack Library Collection

On the whole, Mr. Bernard appears to have been (at a distance of many years and cultural changes) equal parts serious scholar and charletan; a man who did indeed help many desperate people find some peace, but managed to have a rollicking good time doing so.  His interest in the tantric studio – along with some prior “issues” with police in other city dealing with drugs, sex and kidnapping charges – led to his actually being used as the template for several Hollywood “Swami” type villains (one played by W.C. Fields) and having a newspaper comic strip done as a parody of him.  

And yet, his clients were the Vanderbilts and other members of “The 400”. Respected scholars lectured at the Club, authors and artists flocked to his retreat, and like it or not, he moved yoga into the American consciousness for good.  By the time he passed away in 1955 at age 79, he was a Bank President; officer of the Nyack Chamber of Commerce; was head of a very large real estate holding company; held membership in The Masons, of all things; and yeah, he had ELEPHANTS.  His wife, Blanche DiVries, would continue to faithfully teach yoga here in Nyack well into my life time – she taught until 1980 and died in 1984.  

Now, how do I convince the Village Board to bring Elephants back to live in Nyack!

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So, the Sochi Games are up and running and athletes all over the world are sliding, flying, spiraling, slaloming and sweeping their way into the history books… does Nyack have a connection?

One of my favorite things to research is any connection Nyack or the surrounding area has with famous events, people or things – particularly if the aforementioned famous items also happen to coincide with other interests of mine.  I was thrilled when I found that Nyack had a Titanic survivor; let alone the World War I spy ring that connected Nyack to some of the most famous (and infamous) ocean liners of all time; or Marilyn Monroe’s visit – and I think by now most of my readers know that I just love the fact that Nyack was home to a small herd of elephants for decades!

So, I hoped to find some connection between our home and my favorite quadrennial sporting event, the Winter Olympics…

I must admit, that I scored neither a Gold nor a Silver in my search, but I do think I grabbed a Bronze.  I have yet to find a link between Nyack and Sochi – and considering the human rights atmosphere over there, that is just fine with me. However, there ARE some cool facts I can send sliding down the ice…

Bear Mountain Inn photo courtesy of the Nyack Library Collection

Bear Mountain Inn photo courtesy of the Nyack Library Collection

1. THE 1932 WINTER OLYMPICS WERE ALMOST HELD HERE.  Not kidding. Just like today, the IOC seriously considered several possible locations for the ’32 Winter Games which eventually wound up in Lake Placid, New York. Those locations included famous world locations like Oslo, Montreal, Denver and Bear Mountain. Yep, Bear Mountain, Rockland County, New York just up 9W.  See, at the time, Bear Mountain was the premier Ski Jumping site in the entire United States and with the world-famous (at the time) Bear Mountain Lodge, our own state park was almost given the nod for the Games, but lost in the final round to our upstate neighbors.  That Ski Jump would continue to be used (especially by the cadets at West Point) up until 1990 when it was finally retired.  As a consolation prize, Bear Mountain would wind up being the Spring Training location for the Brooklyn Dodgers during the World War II years.  And for a closer tie to Nyack, the then ultra-hip Bear Mountain Inn was managed by the father of our former mayor, Terri Hekker.

Bear Mtn Inn from the Ski Slope. Photo courtesy of Palisades Park Commission.

Bear Mtn Inn from the Ski Slope. Photo courtesy of Palisades Park Commission.

2. THE NBC OLYMPIC BROADCAST SET WAS DESIGNED HERE.
Black Walnut, a design company from Valley Cottage is responsible for the spectacular NBC broadcast sets.  Though one of the largest jobs they’ve ever done, they are not new to this kind of work.  They describe themselves as “fabricators of scenic environments for television, exhibits, live events and theatre” – and they do a superb job, made evident by their Emmy Award winning status.  Along with NBC’s Sochi studios, they’ve also designed and fabricated other NBC News sets here in New York, along with sets for Major League Baseball, Fox Sports, The Colbert Report, The Daily Show, Rock Center, The Weather Channel, and even our local Channel 12 News Studios.  Check out their work at their website http://blackwalnut.tv.

3. A US WOMEN’S CHAMPION IN SKELETON IS FROM HERE.
Katie Koczynski of Upper Nyack competed in three World Cup Championships for the United States in 3 years, 2003, 2004, and 2005 – with a Fourth Place finish at the Calgary World Cup in 2003, a very high placement for an American Slider. Though she did not compete in Turino in 2006, she did bring worldwide attention to the American Team and to our women sliders particularly.  All while maintaining a 3.8 GPA at Columbia University, remaining on the Dean’s List and graduating Cum Laude in Sociology in 2006.  At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, her then boyfriend Bill Demong – a Gold Medal winner in the 10 km large hill Nordic Combined, and a Silver Medal in the 4×5 km team Nordic Combined in Vancouver proposed to her in front of his teammates and coaches.  Bill Demong is in Sochi trying to do a repeat, and his now wife Katie is rooting him on…

The Proposal. Photo from skitrax.com.

The Proposal. Photo from skitrax.com.

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So this week it happened again, torrents of water came rushing down Nyack’s East/West Streets and Avenues gathering speed and strength as several inches of rain overwhelmed storm sewers, picking up sidewalks and pavement while filling basements and even first floors from Franklin Street to the River.  It may seem to some residents that downtown has been flooding several times a year just in recent years; however the downtown area has had issues with flooding for over a century.  The frequency of the flooding does seem to be on the rise, but it is likely that Nyack’s original water issues are being exacerbated by three additional stressors: Blocked Culverts, Loss of Tree Cover due to development Upslope, and worldwide climatic change.

              Mayor Jen Laird-White has been actively seeking abatement solutions to our flooding issues since well before this last storm, and in fact, requested that I write about the history of flooding in Nyack the very day she swore me in as Village Historian.  So far, real solutions come with large price tags in the $15 million or more range. Of the three additional factors mentioned above, obviously Nyack can only actively work on the first and regulate the second, the third can only be addressed by higher levels of government (if at all).  Nonetheless, we have inherited an issue that is long-standing and these additional stressors are only showing up the problems in our water management.

              The culprit is a culvert. Though that is actually an oversimplification, it really does get to the crux of the matter.  There is a running body of water known as the Nyack Brook that runs from the hills of Central Nyack right down through Nyack’s downtown and out into the Hudson near Memorial Park.  Its course is basically parallel to Main Street but you can only SEE it in a few select locations, as it has been covered over and confined to culverts since the late 1800s.  It runs north of Main Street from the area near the northbound Thruway entrance near High Avenue past the new Walgreens and the Catherine Street Firehouse.  For several blocks it runs between Main Street and Catherine Street, and you can see it above ground and cross it with a footbridge by the Tappan Zee Florist at 176 Main Street.  From there it once again dives beneath ground and runs under a number of buildings while heading for Franklin Street. When I was a teenager in the early 1980’s I had several friends who worked at the Coven Café (now Café Barcel) who delighted in pulling up a trap door in the floor of the restaurant to show me the Nyack Brook flowing by between the two segments of the building’s basement!  Originally, the Brook meandered south around Bridge Street where there was, no big surprise, a bridge spanning it. If you look at some of the older published maps of Nyack (like the one at Village Hall) you’ll see that bridge at Main and Bridge Street.  In the early 1900s someone decided that it would be a good idea to divert the brook before it got that far east and created a series of tunnels that turned it at Franklin Street.  That would be planning mistake number one.  One of Nyack’s first major flooding incidents occurred in 1903 just after this was done, no surprise there in hindsight.

1903nyackmainstreetflood

1903 Downtown Flood – from the Nyack Library Archives

Those temporary tunnels were replaced with concrete by the WPA during the Urban Renewal project of the 1960s that razed the business buildings on the east side of Franklin and the south side of Main Street to replace them with a parking lot, the Cinema East theater (now the defunct Riverspace) and the Nyack Plaza housing community. The brook flows beneath Main and Franklin, below the M&T Bank and the parking lot and pops up again briefly just west of Nyack Plaza south of DePew.  It goes to ground again beneath parts of Nyack Plaza and surfaces for a while in the gorge that lies south of Hudson Street and west of Broadway. You can see the brook and the charming tree filled area around it by looking out the back window of the Strawberry Place. From there it goes below Broadway to emerge from under the east side of Piermont Avenue and then flows along the side of Memorial Park and into the Hudson.  The brook is hemmed tightly in some sections and any kind of blockage by expected debris like broken branches; and unexpected like lumber, cinder blocks and unbelievably, shopping carts! There are many local business people who feel that the really severe flooding downtown experienced in 2011 was exacerbated by construction materials and the like that were blocking the culverts.  It has yet to be determined if those objects added significantly or not to the damage; although the timing of the storm brought the floodwaters just when the downtown curbs and sidewalks were being replaced meaning there was very little to funnel or channel water that wound up above ground and flowing down the surface of Main Street.

              The Nyack Brook may also have a special place in history – it may have been one of the “signposts” on the Underground Railroad, as the home of Nyack’s station keepers, Cynthia Hesdra and her husband, was located on the Brook near what is now the corner of Highland Avenue (9W) and Main Street (see my article about Cynthia Hesdra and the Underground Railroad on my At Home In Nyack blog: http://bit.ly/Z5CRMX ).  If this is true, it is a shame that there are so few places where we can actually see with our own eyes a geological feature that was part of such a dangerous and needful endeavor.  In addition to powering several mill wheels over the centuries, the Nyack Brook had for many, many years collected in a pond created by the Lydecker family for their ice business near where the Best Western motel now stands.  There are still Nyack residents who recall happy winter afternoons on what was for so long called “the skating pond”, an annual wintertime joy for many residents.  That pond and another no longer existent smaller pond just east of the main pond were outfitted with floodgates by the Nyack Water Company in 1891.  According to Jim Leiner, our local expert on Nyack’s residents, Tobias Justrich who lived between the two ponds was the volunteer who raised and lowered the gates during storms to prevent the flooding further down the hill – Jim states that when Tobias passed away around 1930 no one took over the job and much more flooding occurred downtown as a result – planning mistake number two.  A July storm in 1948 raised the brook by 9 feet in one afternoon! The construction of the Thruway in the 1950s filled in the Skating Pond, which became planning mistake number three.

1930s flooding from the Nyack Library Archives

1930s flooding from the Nyack Library Archives

Village History shows an uptick in downtown flooding during the 30’s after the floodgates were no longer operated, and more so after the construction of the Thruway.  Without the skating pond, there was nowhere for water to collect along the slope from 9W to the river with one exception – the level area in the center of downtown between Franklin Street and Broadway, where there was already an issue due to the forced migration of the stream into the tunnels that turned it prematurely south.  Note that all the water that collected in this last storm was in that section, the same being true for the flooding event in 2011 that filled the Riverspace Theater with water up to the stage and above the seats.

              Nyack’s location on the tidal section of the Hudson River can be a crap game when it comes to an East Coast Hurricane – even if a storm is only labeled a “Tropical Storm” rather than a “Hurricane” when it reaches us, if it strikes during high tide, the results can be devastating – Superstorm Sandy was just the latest of the named storms that have caused us issues – 1954 brought two storms within a month of each other, Hurricanes Edna and Hazel brought severe flooding to downtown and destroyed several riverfront businesses.  Hurricane Donna in 1960, Agnes in 1972, T.S. David in 1979, Gloria in 1985 and T.S. Floyd in 1999 all brought their special form of misery, flooding downtown and eliminating marinas, docks, and other riverfront businesses.  And of course, in a reflection of 1954, the year 2011 brought us two major events – the flash flood in June followed by Hurricane Irene later in the summer, culminating with Sandy last year. 

              The frequency does appear to be increasing (other smaller events have happened throughout the 2000s – one in 2007 being most significant).  Locally there’s not much we can do regarding the increased strength of storm events as our climate changes, they are not in our control.  However increased vigilance would likely help in keeping the culverts of the brook as clear as possible and in assessing the effect of development in the area in regards to water drainage issues.  When Oak Hill Cemetery clear cut a large swath of its property along Highland Avenue (9W) a few years ago, there were no longer trees to catch runoff and as a result Nyack Hospital now has flooding issues it did not have before and more runoff heads downhill to downtown.  Housing developments above 9W in South Nyack/Upper Grandview and just below 9W in Upper Nyack clear-cut their trees as well with the result of increased flooding in the neighborhoods below them.  These were likely unexpected consequences that no one doing the development considered, and in the future, we must make sure that any similar development is done in a more sustainable manner without full clear-cutting. 

              In the end, there is some flooding we simply can’t avoid – we are a River Village on a very large tidal fjord, and our one tributary stream to the Hudson is by necessity culverted.  Diligence and intelligent planning will aid in lessening the blows of flash flooding, but can never eliminate them completely.

 

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Nyack was in an uproar.  Residents reported their quality of life being severely affected by the latest lifestyle trends and changes in the business district.  Old respectable businesses were closing to be replaced by gathering places for the young and idle. Occupancy numbers in these dens of depravity frequently exceeded any safe number as more and more revelers flocked to Nyack.  Add to that the downtown streets made impassable by wheeled menaces in odd togs and footwear with little concern for those on foot or in respectable carriages and coaches, and the undercurrent of anxiety all of this brought to the local populace and Nyack had a “situation” on its hands.  Sound familiar?

Bars and Bicyclists, you might ask?

No. ROLLER SKATES… and Skating Rinks. Seriously.

The more things change the more they stay the same. If Villagers aren’t complaining about Bars and Bicyclists, its Skating Rinks and Roller Skaters.  In the fall of 1884, roller skating fever hit this country and while rinks began popping up all over, Nyack was to have a good number of them populating the downtown area. First the Village Board was approached by an investor wanting to use Voorhis Hall – where Turiello’s Pizza is now on the corner of Broadway and Main – as a rink, but just a week or two before he opened, another entrepreneur opened HIS rink at the Nyack Opera House – that structure was on the corner of DePew and South Franklin until demolished by the “urban renewal” project of the 1960s that deprived the Village of half its’ downtown and its train stations.

Rear of Nyack Opera House, photo from Nyack Library Collection

As if two skating rinks downtown were not adequate enough for the platoons of skaters invading the village, arriving nightly by train and omnibus, a third emerged that fall of 1884 called “The Casino” located further north on Franklin Street.  By all accounts, “The Casino” was pretty darn large as it regularly recorded 700 – that’s right SEVEN HUNDRED skaters on many nights, and they were open seven nights a week.  The success of the first three ventures led to a fourth and fifth rink in the works when the New York Times wrote a feature article on “Skatertown” on December 22nd of that year with follow-up stories for several weeks afterwards.  Though the skating craze seemed to travel the length of the Hudson Valley and its industrial towns, cities and villages in no other place did it catch on quite so quickly and with so many rinks – let alone the sheer number of skaters coming to the village and partying late into the evening, frequently traumatizing those out on the sidewalks as they whizzed by intent on moving from one venue to the next.  One of the NY Times articles ends with the statement “People here are becoming alarmed, and every time a stranger alights from an incoming train, someone asks with a shudder: ‘Is that another skating rink man?’.”

Live music accompanied the skating in each venue on most evenings, giving Nyack a reputation for a good place for employment among professional musicians – a reputation that would last through the Edwardian Age and Jazz Age to follow and continued up into the 1980s, and which may be seeing a resurgence today, giving a positive side to what many perceive to be a negative late night problem in Nyack’s currently expanding cadre of drinking establishments.  Since there have been times when Nyack had even MORE bars, saloons and pubs than we do today – and one of those times was during the skating boom, perhaps our ‘ancestors’ here in Nyack had an even tougher time than we do today. While todays residents may complain about the cyclists and the bars, well, at least the cyclists aren’t drinking while cycling which was NOT true for many of those with wheels on their heels back in Nyack’s part of the Gilded Age!

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Well, it’s October again, and time for some more local ghost stories – this one is perhaps among the saddest of them all, a whole village that became a wraith of its former existence. The recent fast-tracking of the new Tappan Zee Bridge has brought back fears – well-founded – of homeowners forced to move because of state and federal projects. In Nyack, we mostly discuss the bi-section and gutting of the Village of South Nyack but South Nyack amazingly survived that amputation, other communities in the same time period did not do nearly so well. Not only did the New York State Thruway and the Tappan Zee Bridge project cut a wide swath across the middle portion of the county, but the state conservation movement decided, in the name of “open space” to condemn and forcibly move a good number of Rockland’s villages and hamlets. We tend to think of Harriman State Park and Hook Mountain State Park, and Tallman and the like as intelligently saved pristine old-growth forest. They are not.  Most of the area now in our State Parks was taken from Rockland residents whose families had lived there for centuries. At the bottom of Lake Welch resides the former village of Sandyfield, settled in 1760, condemned in 1928 with the last residents REMOVED from their homes in 1939. Or how about Doodletown? Settled by French Huguenots in 1762, their descendents would be the last to leave more than 200 years later when the state used the power of eminent domain  to seize their homes, church, school, business district and two cemeteries. The remains of the late 1790’s village of Johnsontown – still occupied when Harriman and Bear Mountain State Parks were created, lies beneath Lake Sebego and Lake Kanawauke.  The hamlet founded in 1724 by the Conklin family on Pine Meadow Lake was bulldozed in the 1960s for a series of 35 camps for urban children that have yet to be built in 2011. Sterlington was also wiped from the maps, St. John’s in the Wilderness no longer has a village around it and caters to a congregation of memories and regrets. In all cases, despite some propaganda from the state, the residents did NOT want to go, and were certainly not compensated properly for loss of property.

Wasn’t this supposed to be about Rockland Lake and the Nyack area?

Yes, it was – I was just filling in a bit about the approximately 13 villages and hamlets Rockland surrendered to the State.  One of the most egregious cases was that of Rockland Lake.  John Slaughter settled the area on the Hudson below Rockland Lake in 1711 (the piers and docking area were called “Slaughter’s Landing”).  Harvesting of ice for storage purposes and meal enhancement at restaurants began commercially in the USA in 1805 and demand skyrocketed as “modern” convenience and the middle class both expanded to become part of the everyday life of the young USA.  The Knickerbocker Ice Company incorporated at Rockland Lake in 1831 (changing the name officially from Quaspeck Lake). Rockland Lake was known to have had the cleanest and purest ice in the area. The stored ice was placed on inclined railroad cars, transported down the mountainside, placed on barges on the Hudson River, and shipped to New York City. So much ice was shipped that Rockland Lake became known as the “Icehouse of New York City”. The nearby Knickerbocker Fire House was established 1862. The Knickerbocker Ice Company closed in 1924 as commercial refrigeration and freezers took the place of Ice Harvesting.

photo: J.P. Schutz

 
Wikipedia would have us believe that Rockland Lake Village as it was then called, died by 1926 when it claims that while demolishing one of the old ice houses, the residents themselves caused a fire that “destroyed the majority of the Village of Rockland Lake” effectively ending its’ existence.  Really? In reality, less than a dozen buildings caught fire in a village of well over a thousand people.  Though the glory days of fast clipper ships and later crack steamers carrying Rockland Lake Ice literally all over the world had ended, Rockland Lake Village survived the change. There was still work in the trap rock quarries and also in the hospitality industry.
 
After the Ice, Rockland Lake became known as a resort area for folks from New York City and the rest of the metropolitan area. I owe my own residency in Rockland County to that time period. My grandparents, lifelong New York City residents, maintained a summer and weekend bungalow cottage at Rockland Lake from pre-WWII until they were forced to leave it in the 1960s. My grandma and my mom and uncle would spend most of the summer weeks up here while my grampy joined them on weekends. At the end of the summer, my grandma would return to her manager position at Lord & Taylor and they’d come for weekends whenever possible except for the coldest weeks of January and February.  My Mom learned to drive here and took her drivers test in Nyack. The family would attend church at St Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Rockland Lake on Sundays, bringing 4 welcome musical voices to the congregation. They saw movies in Nyack, had sodas at Woolworth’s, got prescriptions at Koblins and shoes at Glynns. And fell in love with the area – when my Mom and my Uncle married, each brought their family here to the area around Rockland Lake. In the early 1950s when they were looking, they realized that Nyack and even Rockland Lake were too much for their newlywed finances, taking my Mom and Dad just next door in Blauvelt, and my Uncle and Aunt to the edge of the area in West Nyack.  My grandparents would continue to come weekends and summers to their Rockland Lake bungalow and considered Rockland County their second home.  Through the 1950s and into the early 1960s the area of Rockland Lake Village still had many thriving vacation cottage and bungalow communities, local shops, a number of restaurants, cafes and lunch counters, tradespeople’s businesses, along with Gethsemane cemetery, the Rockland Lake Post Office, and the church, along with over a thousand year-round residents and several thousand seasonal residents.  By 1965, it was almost all gone. The beautiful mission church St. Michael’s established in 1901, would be demolished by the state in 1963 – 6 years before any serious park service work was done in its area.  The post office closed its doors in 1965, effectively ending Rockland Lake’s existence as a “place”.
The firehouse still bravely struggles on, even to this day, and a few homes remain.  As for the rest, taking a walk from the Firehouse over the ridge and down to the Hudson along what was the main road of the old village brought me to a ghost town where I found ruins, lots of ruins: of houses, of the old inclined railway, of the shipping piers, and even of the grand hotel that used to be right on the Hudson shore.

photo: JP Schutz

I found myself very sad, and oddly, a bit angry. Why destroy a living, breathing village, or 13 of them in the case of Rockland County’s full total? Greenspace is a wonderful thing, but at such a price? And sadly, so much of what had been inhabited is almost unreachable anyway – it’s never been utilized or even properly cleaned and returned to wilderness. It was just taken away. Some will say for the benefit of all, and they may very well be correct – on the great ledger of society, it may be that Rockland County’s loss of the Mountain Hamlets for Harriman State Park, the heart of the Village of South Nyack for the Thruway and the Bridge, and the Village of Rockland Lake for Rockland Lake State Park is a “net gain”.  But I must submit that the gain does not come without sorrow or bitterness… after all these years, my mother has NEVER returned to the spot that was the source of so much of her early happiness – despite having lived just a few miles away in the ensuing 45 years. (She has promised she will come – with me – so I can give a more first hand tale from one of the old “summer people”).  Before the park, Rockland Lake was a beautiful lake that was frequently used by “city people” and other non-residents who would come and rent here, or buy here, and shop the local stores and businesses during their summer stay. Now, busloads are shipped in from the city to use a man-made pool and then head back to the city just hours later without ever becoming involved in the local communities or adding to their economies while utilizing their resources – resources that were taken AWAY from the locals. Is this progress? Was this what was intended? Again, in light of the beauty that is Harriman State Park, the peace of Rockland Lake State Park, and the needed interstate and river crossing we have now – perhaps it has been for the best common good.  But Rockland has given and given and given for the common good and too infrequently receives back.  The mountain villages and Rockland Lake Village are no more… I hope that those in charge take serious consideration of just how much this area has sacrificed to the common good before they plunge into the sadly necessary need to rebuild the Bridge. Before anymore homes, dreams, communities, memories and history get trampled in the mad rush of expediency and “for the common good” may those in power take some time to consider treading as lightly as is humanly possible in a place that has already sacrificed so much of itself. Karma is supposed to come around, isn’t it? Hey Albany, are you listening?

photo: JP Schutz

 

photo: JP Schutz

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For those who religiously trek to Arthur Ashe Stadium at Forest Hills each September, or remain glued to the US Open on their televisions or computers for the duration, it may come as a bit of a shock to discover that the Nyack Country Club Open Tennis Tournament was for many years a major competition.  National and Internationally ranked stars came to Upper Nyack to compete in the event which was covered daily by the papers from New York City and around the world.

The building and grounds currently known as the Nyack Field Club on Midland Avenue in Upper Nyack for a time belonged to Pierre Bernard (aka “Oom the Omniscient”) who called it “Braeburn Country Club” when he acquired it in 1918. However, prior to 1918 it was called “The Nyack Country Club” and that was the period of its’ national reputation.  The savvy planners of this tournament generally timed it for the month of September, allowing world-class and seeded tennis players – male and female – to finish up the competition at Forest Hills and then stay in the New York metro area while they then competed in Nyack.  Held under the auspices of the United States National Lawn Tennis Association (now the National Tennis Association), the Nyack Open even had its’ own corporate sponsor, the Spalding Tennis Ball company.  I found references to the tournament as far back as 1893 in The New York Times and 1894 in The New York Sun – both references making it clear that it was already a fairly well-known tournament by the early 1890s.  As far as I can find in my research, I can verify the tournament continuing at least through 1915, and it was reported daily in the Times and the Sun, as well as being previewed in both papers months in advance.

In 1904, The New York Times reported 110 Contestants for the titles which included Mens Singles, Mens Doubles, Womens Singles, Womens Doubles and Mixed Doubles.  The Spalding Tennis Annual of that year had this to say about the 1904 competition:

“The courts, which are considered especially fine, were in the best of condition. Good weather made it possible to run the tournament through to its completion without interruption and added considerably to the attractiveness of the picturesque club house and grounds. Many contestants availed themselves of the privileges of the club, which are extended to all players during tournaments, and all expressed themselves as having enjoyed a most delightful week.”

So, if we had ourselves a major stop on what was the equivalent of our modern Pro Tour, we should have had ourselves some major players in the area, perhaps even a Tennis Star? Well, it appears that we did indeed have a hometown tennis hero, or heroine as it turns out, Augusta Bradley Chapman.

photo courtesy of Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame

Born Augusta Bradley in January 1875, she was the daughter of socialite Augusta Tremaine Bradley and Stephen R. Bradley, founder of the Fiber Conduit Company of Orangeburg, known worldwide as “Orangeburg Pipe”.  She would be a lifelong resident of Nyack and Upper Nyack, and marry George L. Chapman, himself a tennis player of note, and later the Vice President of The Nyack Bank.  Her professional tennis career spanned 30 years (three decades in pro sports, there’s a record to be proud of!) and was considered one of the finest women players, indeed finest women athletes, of her era.  She won over 60 major tournaments, including the Nyack Country Club Singles Championship, the Singles State Championship of New Jersey, and 7 times won the Hudson River Tennis Association (which included Forest Hills) Singles title. Her performances in Women’s Doubles with partner Mrs. Marshall McLean would place them in Second Place in the 1915 US Open and finally win First Place in the US Open in 1917 (due to the USA’s entry into WWI, the 1917 US Open was renamed “The 1917 Patriotic Tennis Tournament”). She would also win First Place in the country in Mixed Doubles that same year and same tournament with her mixed doubles partner, Nathaniel Niles.  Augusta Bradley Chapman would go on to represent the United States of America in the Wightman Cup Tournament against the players of the United Kingdom.

As noted in the annals of the National Tennis Association, the Tennis World mourned pioneer Augusta Bradley Chapman’s passing on February 11, 1949, having been preceded by her husband. She was 75 years old and still resided in the Nyacks.  In 1977 she was elected to the Rockland County Sports Hall of Fame, becoming chronologically the first woman in the Hall, and first Nyacker as well.  She and West Nyack’s John Koster (pioneer in pro-bowling, 4 time national champ) are the earliest athletes so honored, both being at their peak in the early years of the 1900s.  Augusta Bradley Chapman is one few professional athletes in the Rockland Hall that lived their entire lives here, a distinction she shares with Pearl River resident John Flaherty, formerly of the West Nyack Little League and catcher for a little team called The New York Yankees, with whom he caught for the likes of Mariano Rivera and Rogers Clemens, and in the 2003 World Series helping to cap his 14 year career.  

It seems amazing to me that with all of the tennis courts in the area, as far as I know, none have been named in honor of our hometown tennis queen Augusta Bradley Chapman. Perhaps I’ll “lob”-by for one!

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10 Years Ago Today: 9/11/2001 Nyack’s 9-11 Hero

I’ve been planning a post about a certain young man for almost a year – half out of the concern that perhaps he’d be forgotten in the crush of politicization of the event; conflict over the museum and memorial; bickering between New York and New Jersey over who should be “invited”; the inevitable conspiracy theories and an undercurrent of still simmering anger and unresolved grief. I was wrong.  Mercifully  he has NOT been forgotten in the chaos of this anniversary. People have remembered to celebrate and tell the story of this remarkable young man.  The mysterious and miraculous “Man in the Red Bandana”, a Nyacker who on 9/11/2001 lived – and died – according to what he believed and what he had been taught by his family, his church and his schools growing up among us. Welles Remy Crowther, NHS Class of 1995. He did us all proud.

The Honor Student from Nyack High and volunteer member of the Empire Hook and Ladder Co. in Upper Nyack graduated from Boston College in 1999. He was working at Sandler O’Neill & Partners as an Equities Trader. From his lofty office on the 104th Floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower it seemed that the world was literally and figuratively at the feet of this polite, dedicated, brilliant young man.  Then that dream exploded on the wings of hijacked planes and a religion hijacked by fanatical extremist devotees.  Wells Remy Crowther would counter those acts of crushing hate with acts of towering love. 

This athletic young man would have easily made it out, and could have. At 9:12 AM he would call his mother in Upper Nyack from his cellphone to say he was okay. His mother would never hear his voice again. For Wells Crowther (who had already somehow miraculously made it down to the 78th floor skylobby from the 104th) could not see the pain and fear and confusion in the Skylobby’s burning ruins and not ACT.  He led people to the only remaining usable stairwell to the lower floors and carried a facially burned woman down all the way to the 61st… and then he went back up for more people, and brought them down, then back up again… On March 19, 2002 Wells Remy Crowther was finally recovered in the company of several FDNY and EMS members – the group had been heading back UP with a ‘jaws of life’ device when the South Tower followed its’ sister in a slow cascade of doomed hopes and broken dreams. At least 18 people are known to owe their lives directly to the selfless acts committed by a man in a red bandanna. On December 15, 2006, through a Special Commendation by the NYC Fire Commissioner Welles Remy Crowther was made an honorary member of the FDNY.  This was the first time in history that the department had done that posthumously. The Crowther family was presented with a framed certificate of appointment which included a department badge and a red bandanna.

The word “hero” is sadly overused these days.  Pampered overpaid athletes simply doing their job are not heroes.  Politicians mouthing platitudes  and slogans of every variety are not heroes. Even those who survive an act of horrifying evil, or lose someone to it, are not heroes but victims of an assault on humanity. People who put their lives on the line everyday fighting fires, crimes and dire illnesses – or fighting in service of their country – are heroes. And people who go back upstairs over and over in a conflagration of staggering proportions, knowing full well that the edifice’s twin has already collapsed, and who are not even “official” rescue workers on the scene? Well to me, that’s the definition of a superhero, or perhaps, a saint. In the spirit of “No greater love than this…” , young Mr. Crowther laid down his life – not even for friends – but for perfect strangers. Strangers he believed were his brothers and sisters in the human condition. When I reach my last day on Earth, I hope that I can face it the way Wells Remy Crowther did – with courage, honor and love.

photo: Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust

 

10 Years Ago Today: 9/12/2001 Nyack the Day After

Of course, everyone over the age of 18 remembers where they were on “that day” 10 years ago – I was with most of the other Rand Realtors in Orangeburg at a conference that quickly came to a halt and we watched horrified as friends, neighbors, and even spouses died in front of us on TVs in the lounge of the Holiday Inn, before slowly singly and in pairs we slipped out and headed home to some perceived place of safety or at least of isolation from the horror.

But what about the next day? Do you remember where you were on September 12, 2001?

I do – I spent much of it at the Runcible Spoon cafe in the center of Nyack and just blocks from my house.  Still staggered by the events of the day before and sitting up literally all night watching the news and waiting for reports on loved ones and friends, we crept out of our homes and our modern-day isolation in desperate need of human contact. The first thing I noticed was the silence – not a single plane was traversing that blue sky. Almost no one was in a car, there were people on the street, strangely hushed and many with red-rimmed eyes. And there were… flags. In a trendy village that considered overtly patriotic displays to be inappropriate or gauche except on special holidays, suddenly Old Glory could be seen on flag poles, on porch railings, hanging from the terraces in my building the Ivanhoe and down the street at the Rivercrest, or tacked up in the windows of apartments or the few open businesses. I stifled an urge to cover my heart with my hand right in the middle of the cross walk.

Arriving at “The ‘Runce” there were some subdued greetings and some deep quiet hugs – assurance that YOU and I were still here, that there was some sanity left in this bad dream. And newspapers everywhere – I must confess, I still have not looked at that famous photo in the New York Times – it seems somehow obscene (and I mean that word in its’ original meaning) that the terror and horror of some poor soul’s last plummet to the ground could be tossed out like a vacation snapshot. I felt violated for that man when a friend reading the Times started to fold the paper back intending to show me, and I turned away. Looked around instead. Confusion. Muffled sobs. Inappropriate laughter. Then silence again. I heard a child’s voice ask “But when is mommy coming home???” and silently wept in my heart for the adult who could not answer that innocent question. A question that burned in my mind all day and that evening back home listening to Chuck and Sue continuing to give us more information on what was happening, I wrote a lyric for a children’s musical I was writing with composer Neil Berg. “Someone’s Always There For You” became the most loved song from the musical the HHPAC had commissioned us to write. 

The next morning there would be more flags, eventually every car would begin to look like it was in the Presidential Motorcade and bunting and banners were everywhere. On September 10 we were grumbling about parking, arguing over the Nurses’ lawsuit at Nyack Hospital and really oddly, on September 10, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was calling for a downsizing of the Department of Defense, giving it a grade “D” for business efficiency and comparing to “Soviet Central Planning”. The tragedy of September 11 put away our differences for a good long time – reminding us of our shared experience as human beings and as citizens of the United States of America.  We came together in a way that had not happened in some time – as shared crisis will always do.  Yes, as the tragedy receded into the past, the events of that day would be used over and over by numerous politicians of all stripes as a tool to be used to get elected; and religious denominations bemoaning perceived flaws in some other religious denomination or lifestyle, and yes, the makers of really tacky Americana kitsch would make a windfall on items that can be looked at now while shaking one’s head and thinking “how did I ever buy THAT?”  The tragedy has been used, and abused. But it did bring us together as a Nation when we had spent so much of the late ’80s and all of the 1990’s in a long era of self-interest and diffidence toward community.

Fast forward to September 11, 2011. When I was on the altar at St. Ann’s this morning (now yesterday morning, good grief!) singing “God Bless America” at 9:59AM – I found myself mentally and emotionally flashing back to the horror, the fear, the anger and the pain of that day and feared I would lose my composure before I could finish the song. Then I looked out at the congregation, many of the same faces I saw a decade ago, and I remembered the day AFTER – and the sense of community that saved us from despair in 2001 saved my song and tribute in 2011. One cable TV station chose to honor the 9-11 Anniversary by playing my favorite film “Casablanca” which puzzled me at first.  Then we got to the scene where everyone at Ricks is looking at the floor while the occupying Nazi army sings a victory song. One man with the courage to risk his life and resist – Victor Laslow or Wells Crowther? – goes to the bandstand and conducts the orchestra into playing “La Marseillaise” the National Anthem of then occupied and conquered France. Eventually everyone else in the cafe joins in the song – not a fist fight or exchange of shots, but a subtler battle for the heart and mind – the offensive Nazi battle hymn is drowned out by people realizing that they are more than the sum of their parts, and that when they join together they cannot be defeated.

Donations can be made to the  Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust, P.O. Box 780, Nyack, NY 10960-0780;  crowthertrust@aol.com. The trust endows scholarships for Nyack High School students and helps fund local music, environmental and educational charities.  

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